21 March 2014

Current FamilySearch digitization projects: How to find them

FamilySearch is the largest genealogy non-profit, and is always adding new content to their flagship website FamilySearch.org. As any other genealogist and avid user of FamilySearch's digital record collections, I am always curious when the records I need will go online.

For full-time genealogy researchers, knowing what is coming online within the year may result in saving untold funds and time. If I am desperate to find ancestors in X, and I pay a genealogist to search X's records by hand, I could be out of several hundreds of dollars. If X's records will be digitized within 1-3 years I may decide to spend my several hundred on records farther out in the queue of digitization (or records that are not in the queue at all).

Unfortunately for all of us enthusiastic genealogists, we have to learn patience. FamilySearch's official policy on listing their current projects is as follows:

"FamilySearch does not provide information on current or future projects. The first public notice of FamilySearch's newly acquired records appears in the Family History Library Catalog."

I wonder if things might be changing at FamilySearch and all around us though. I wonder if we are moving toward an era of greater project transparency. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch will no longer be competing for digitization contracts with the same archive. Their recent partnership was discussed in detail at RootsTech and several online news sources. Last month at RootsTech, one of the leaders of FamilySearch mentioned a project that is still under discussion with the government of India. I was a little surprised to hear this announcement before a contract was even final, considering FamilySearch's general policy. Perhaps FamilySearch has little reason to withhold the information, but there is no efficient system to list current project to the public at this time.

There are a few ways I have learned to gather information about current digitization projects.
  1. Attend FamilySearch presentations
    RootsTech, Family History Library classes, or local family history fairs often have speakers who are FamilySearch employees. Last month at RootsTech there were several current projects announced. Some of these were later mentioned in a FamilySearch Blog post.
  2. Network with FamilySearch employees and missionaries (on and offline)
    FamilySearch employees are fairly closed lipped online due to company policy, but will sometimes share more in person. They are enthusiastic genealogists too! I have found one recently who is tweeting sometimes about current projects.

    Attending events like RootsTech is a great way to jump start your networking. You can sometimes get specific employees email addresses and begin to have discussions with them about what is going on inside FamilySearch. Being helpful and providing useful feedback is a good way to approach this.

    FamilySearch missionaries can often be found in your own congregations or areas. If you are involved with your local Family History Center, societies, and genealogical repositories, you may just end up running into some of these digitization teams.
  3. Follow the news and blogs
    Using a search engine to search for terms such as "FamilySearch digitization" (without quotes) will reveal some online newspaper articles about FamilySearch missionaries and what they are digitizing. You can use keywords like those to create alerts on Google News so that you will be emailed when a new story goes online.

    Subscribing to genealogy blogs will help you to be among the first to know. The following blogs are some that often discuss FamilySearch news:
    1. FamilySearch Blog
    2. Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter
    3. Ancestry Insider
    4. Genealogy's Star
    5. Larry Cragun Family and Genealogy Blog
    6. Renee's Genealogy Blog
    7. Enduring Legacy Genealogy (you are here)
 Check back for a possible follow-up article about known current projects.

How to obtain Pennsylvania state vital records

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was one of the main ports of entry into our nation. Many families in the United States have some ancestors who are connected to Pennsylvania, even if they moved out soon after immigrating. This is why the availability of vital records in eastern states like Pennsylvania is important to the genealogy of the nation.

The process of obtaining Pennsylvania state vital records is changing. Vital records are the records of birth and death that are recorded at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Chances are that you have your own birth certificate, and perhaps a death certificate of a recently deaceased close relative. These records list date and location of the recorded event, parents names, and several other useful facts of genealogical interest. Imagine if you could have these certificates for all your Pennsylvania ancestors. You may unlock relationships, find out where an ancestor was buried, the causes of death (for family health history), or simply fill in those missing dates on your pedigree. Soon you will be able to do all this more easily.

State vital records (births and deaths) for Pennsylvania begin in 1906. Until recently, the only way to search these records was to ask the staff of the Pennsylvania Department of Health to search the records for you. In early 2012, the state legislature passed a law directing that all deaths filed 50 years ago, and births filed 105 years ago, are now open to the public. For those public years, the health department quickly posted images of the typed indexes online. The first benefit was that you could now search the index yourself. That was an immediate genealogical benefit. For example, you could look for spelling variants, or look for everyone with the last name you are interested in.

Starting this year (2014), Ancestry.com will put digital images and a searchable index of these records online. The first batch of records is anticipated to come next month (April). These records may include deaths from 1906 through 1924. Details of when specific batches of these records will be released online is subject to change, but they will be coming online soon.

When these records come online they will start to appear in the "Hints" of Ancestry.com member trees, and will also be searchable with various data entry fields like current collections on the Ancestry.com website. This will allow you to find vital records in seconds that you may not have even known existed before. If any of your relatives died in Pennsylvania between 1906 and 1963, this collection is for you. It also will include births from 1906 through 1908, although those may not be uploaded for almost another year. The deaths records will be release in batches first.

If you do not have an Ancestry.com account, please do not despair. There will be several free options to access the Pennsylvania records. You may use the database at the archives, at a Family History Center, or select libraries. You may also have free access from home if you are a Pennsylvania resident. You can already access other Pennsylvania collections for free. Get started today to set up your free account at http://phmc.info/ancestrypa.

If you can't wait, check out the typed indices today at the public records page of the Pennsylvania Department of Health website.